What goes on behind the bars at the Utah State Prison may surprise you.
Our minds are usually filled with images of men and women in jump suits, bars, concrete floors and stern guards at every corner. But here, there are also classrooms and chapels, and volunteers from outside the prison are welcomed almost daily.
Two of these volunteers are your neighbors, Kelli Davey and Lisa Clayton. They visit the women’s prison on a monthly basis, and do something unexpected: crochet.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is responsible for recruiting many of the volunteers. Davey and Clayton signed up through their LDS ward, along with others. They volunteer once a month, but others are there more often.
Bishops, Relief Society presidents and teachers are at the prison every week, serving and instructing in the LDS faith. All prisoners are welcome at any of the services, regardless of their faith. In addition to traditional Sunday meetings, the church also provides activities and firesides during the week, like what Davey and Clayton participate in.
Davey and Clayton serve as a small, but influential spoke of the volunteer wheel. Along with some other volunteers, they facilitate a crochet class, but they don’t teach. They are simply there to provide good, positive conversation.
“Sometimes we’ll just sit and chat with each other and they will comment how nice it is to hear normal conversation of normal moms in the normal world. Normal conversation isn’t something they know how to do,” said Davey.
The crochet group is also an opportunity for the women in the prison to learn and improve a craft. “They learn a skill that’s a relaxation skill, it’s a social skill, it’s a productive skill,” said Davey. The women in the prison can also earn service hours through crocheting. All of the crochet work - blankets, washcloths, baby clothes, etc., are donated to different charitable organizations; whoever is in need.
Many of the women in the prison are very talented with a crochet hook. “The very first day I went ... this gal ... crocheted these little tiny baby booties. They were amazing, beautiful. I was blown away,” said Clayton.
Davey has been volunteering for two and a half years, and Clayton for four years. “I enjoy volunteering, it’s different people to serve,” said Davey. “I enjoy seeing the positive interaction between [the women],” said Clayton. “I like to see their kindnesses to each other. ... Their friendships ... I like to talk with them, I like to see their talents.”
The volunteer work does not go unappreciated by the recipients. “They love having the volunteers coming out,” said Valerie Johnson, Mountain Point stake Relief Society presidency. “I don’t know if some of them have ever experienced the kind of love, example and kindness from the volunteers.” Johnson is in charge of coordinating the crochet group volunteers at the prison. Without her efforts, the women at the prison would not have the chance to get together each week.
To volunteer at the prison you must pass a background check, and if you want to be a regular you must also attend a training class each year.